Bottle tree (Pachypodium lealii)

Also known as: Kudu lily
KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderGentianales
FamilyApocynaceae
GenusPachypodium (1)
SizeHeight: 1 - 8 m (1)

Listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

The bottle tree owes its name to the unusual swollen shape of its succulent trunk (3). Covered in slender thorns, the narrow branches of this shrub or tree spread sparsely from the top of the trunk, while the leaves are arranged in spiral clusters towards the tips (1) (3) (4). At flowering, the leaves drop off, and long, pointed buds positioned at the ends of the leafless branches, open into attractive, sweet-smelling, white flowers, flushed with purple on the undersides. The conspicuous fruit are borne in V-shaped pairs of cylindrical follicles that split down one side to shed numerous seeds, each tufted on one end with a plume of hair that aids dispersal (1) (3). The two subspecies of Pachypodium lealii are separated by more than a 1,000 kilometres, but share many of the same characteristics (3) (5). However, while the nominate subspecies Pachypodium lealii lealii grows up to eight metres tall and has velvety leaves, P. l. saundersii, commonly known as the kudu lily, rarely grows over 1.5 metres and has glossy leaves (3). Due to their different habit and the large distance that separates the two subspecies, P. l. saundersii is often treated as a separate species, P. saundersii (5).

Pachypodium lealii lealii is found in northwestern Namibia, southwestern Angola and northwestern Botswana, while P. l. saudersii is found in South Africa, Swaziland, southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe (1) (3).

Occurs in arid or semi-arid environments, amongst dry scrubby vegetation on rocky hillsides or outcrops (1) (3).

Like other pachypodiums, the succulent stem of Pachypodium lealii acts as a water store that enables the plant to tolerate the hot, dry environments in which it grows (3). The nominate subspecies P. l. leali flowers from May to Novemeber, with a peak in August in the middle of the dry winter (5) (6), while P. l. saudersii tends to flower earlier in the year, from February through to May (3).

Traditional hunters in northern Namibia used the highly toxic sap of the bottle tree as an arrow poison, and carved drinking bowls from the wood to poison unwitting birds (6).

Neither subspecies of Pachypodium lealii appears to be under significant threat, but the lack of young specimens, and the removal of wild plants for trade, is a concern in Namibia (6).

Both Pachypodium lealii subspeciesare listed on Appendix II of CITES, which makes it an offence to trade these plants without a permit (2).

For further information on Pachypodium lealii and other Pachypodium species see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (2009) Pers. comm.
  2. CITES (March, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org
  3. PlantZAfrica.com (March, 2009)
    http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantnop/pachypodium.htm
  4. Van Wyk, B. and Van Wyk, P. (1997) Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  5. Court, D. (2000) Succulent Flora of Southern Africa. A.A. Balkema Publishers, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
  6. Curtis, B.A. and Mannheimer, C.A. (2005) Tree atlas of Namibia. National Botanical Research Institute of Namibia, Windhoek.